Well, we have our answer: testosterone replacement therapy. The same treatment that caused Chael Sonnen to test positive for his UFC 117 title fight with Anderson Silva. The treatment approved for both Todd Duffee and Dan Henderson.
Nate Marquardt appeared on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani and spoke his piece. He was forthcoming -- outside of citing PSAC chief's Greg Sirb's suggestion that he not discuss his testosterone numbers, Marquardt answered every question sked of him. He was lucid. He expressed remorse. He cried, at times. He apologized to everyone involved.
Marquardt's story is this. He went to his doctor after feeling sluggish and irritable and having suffered memory loss for a period of time. Blood tests came back showing low testosterone. After additoinal screening, including more blood work and a brain scan, Marquardt's doctor recommended testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). He was undergoing treatment for both his fight with Rousimar Palhares in Austin, Texas, and Yushin Okami in Oberhausen, Germany. (The UFC oversaw drug testing and medicals overseas.)
Nate then requested a therapeutic-use exemption (TUE) for his fight against Dan Miller in New Jersey. The New Jersey State Athletic Control Board indicated that while his doctor's request was incomplete and the treatment did not comply to USADA standards, they would authorize the treatment, so long as he agreed to go off treatment for eight weeks and take three blood tests after the fight.
Marquardt agreed to the request, and the state's specialist agreed with the TRT treatment. Now only three weeks from his fight with Rick Story in Pennsylvania, Marquardt's personal doctor suggested more aggressive treatment -- instead of taking oral medication which promoted the pituitary gland to spur testosterone production in the testicles, the doctor would inject the testosterone straight.
The injections pushed Marquardt's level out of the range accepted by the PSAC. Nate continued to take blood tests throughout the week leading up to the fight, but was still over, though close, before the weigh-ins. The Pennsylvania refused to allow him to fight, the UFC inserted Charlie Brenneman against Rick Story, and Dana White fired Marquardt through Twitter.
Marquardt claims to have taken another blood test on the day of the fight that would have put him well within the accepted limits.
There's a lot of issues to run through here:
- I want to believe Nate Marquardt's story. While his decision to wait almost 72 hours to address the situation is suspicious, he did not deflect any of Helwani's questions, seemed forthcoming in responses, showed remorse, and accepted responsibility for the entire run of events this weekend.
- That said, the biggest issue to me is use of TRT itself. While the treatment certainly has its medical benefits, should it really have a place in professional sports? Is obtaining treatment from a doctor as easy as walking into a California doctor's office, complaining of headaches or anxiety, and leaving with a medical marijuana card? If testosterone is otherwise banned, why is TRT allowed? If a fighter's body naturally loses the ability to produce testosterone, why should they be allowed to replace it artificially?
Other pro sports have already banned TRT treatment, for instance.That last point may not be true, darlings.
- The other side of that coin, and my personal opinion, is the question of why we don't allow regulated use of steroids, HGH, etc. in the first place. If the issue is one of wanting "clean" or "pure" or "natural" athletes, I would ask your opinion on the "unnatural" act of taking concentrated doses of vitamins and minerals. If the issue is one of competitive balance, I would ask for your solution to level differences in economic wealth, access to training facilities, etc. If the issue is one of fighters health, I would ask why you feel you know what is best for a professional athlete.
- Back to Marquardt, there's something to be said of his past. He previously failed a drug test in 2005, which he claims resulted from a banned substance in an over-the-counter medication. He's also developed a reputation as a "dirty" fighter for his actions in fights against Ricardo Almeida and Thales Leites. He's no stranger to controversy, and it's fair to ask if that's a part of his character.
- Marquardt is currently under suspension in Pennsylvania, though he claims commission executive Greg Sirb thought the suspension would be lifted given current information. Sirb will meet with his board to review the situation.
- When asked why his testosterone was low, Marquardt couldn't provide an answer. There are many reasons for low testosterone production, including genetics, steroid abuse, aging. While many have pointed out that low testosterone is not common among young athletes, and that's a fair reason to remain skeptical, I don't think that's proper evidence against Marquardt's use of treatment.
- Going back to his fight in New Jersey, I'm very interested why, if his doctor's paperwork was incomplete and his treatment did not comply under USADA regulation, was he given a TUE? If the commission had issues with the treatment -- and given their request for him to stop use and take blood tests after the fight, they did, why was he allowed to fight?
- As for Nate's release, one wonders why the UFC and Dana White have not only kept Chael Sonnen on the roster, but actively supported him. I feel like Sonnen may have dodged a bullet when he tapped to a triangle late in his fight with Anderson Silva. His situation, as bad as it is now, would have been magnified had he dealt with the California commission as UFC middleweight champion. He also killed a rematch with the champ and a chance to coach the Ultimate Fighter with Michael Bisping. So, he's not blameless here, either.
- It's going to be interesting to see how Marquardt's career unfolds. Dana White's "never again" proclamations should always be met with extreme skepticism, but considering no new information has been shed for him, it seems unlikely for an immediate return. Lex McMahon noted that his phone was "blowing up" with calls from promoters, so Nate's services will be in high demand. That said, the MMA landscape is a much different place without Strikeforce operating as an individual entity.